Backpacking the Enchantments

Words and photos by Catie Bergman

Leavenworth, Washington

Contained within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the Enchantments are a well protected landscape with mountain rages that look straight out of a fairytale. Granite peaks worn smooth by glaciers, sunset over Prusik Peak, a herd of baby mountain goats up close… these are some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

I backpacked the Enchantments with seven of my college friends this July. We kicked off our four day (three night) trip at Snow Lake trailhead, and spent the next days gaining some serious elevation to access the “Core Zone” and enjoying crystalline lakes, amazing views, and trail camaraderie. Every person we ran into seemed just as in awe, and just as grateful to be there as we were. 

A short itinerary:

Day 1: Snow Lake trailhead to Snow Lake

Day 2: Lunch at Lake Vivian at the base of Prusik Peak and camp at Leprechaun Lake, with an afternoon day hike following the cairns to Perfection Lake

Day 3: Summit hike with a view of Dragontail Peak, lunch back at Leprechaun Lake, and a hike back to Snow Lake to camp

Day 4: Hike back to Snow Lake trailhead, and a drive to our favourite post-hike lunch (milkshake) in Leavenworth: Heidleburger Drive-In.

We planned on spending more than one night in the core, but with the combination of predicted rain and steep descent, our group felt more comfortable heading back to Snow Lake before the storms. Regardless of that decision, we had the core to ourselves for the night and got to watch the sun set over Prusik Peak. 

For me, backpacking has been a lesson in appreciating what is right in front of me; slowing down and letting go of the illusion control—because no matter how much you prepare, the unexpected can still occur. There is no swaying nature. There is no car to get you to an epic campsite and there is definitely no cell signal to find the coolest geotag nearby. There is only the present moment, and however you choose to react to it.

For me, backpacking has been a lesson in appreciating what is right in front of me; slowing down and letting go of the illusion control—because no matter how much you prepare, the unexpected can still occur… There is only the present moment, and however you choose to react to it.

As a photographer, I love to feel in control. When I’m on an adventure, I’m constantly planning the next scenic stop, or daydreaming about tomorrow’s view I’ll wake up to. I realize this is problematic. How can you enjoy the moment when you’re always trying to control the next? And how will you react when something happens outside of your control? 

After backpacking the Enchantments, I returned feeling so alive. Control is a heavy weight to carry, and letting go a little is incredibly refreshing. We control our odds, yes. We place ourselves in the most ideal situations so that things might go our way. But this is all we can do, and the rest is a leap of faith. 

Sometimes I had literal leaps of faith on this trip, as there were a few waterfall crossings when I questioned my landing, and several rock face scrambles when all I could visualize was falling. There were hailstorms right as we arrived to set up camp. There were nights of no rest because sleeping at altitude its a tricky beast. There were mornings when I woke up to photograph the sunrise, only to find myself trapped by mountain goats surrounding my tent. 

The restless night led to some insane star gazing, and photographing the mountain goats proved to be way more fun than watching the sun come up anyway.

But there were many more moments when the challenges paid off. The daunting waterfall crossing led me one of the most spectacular places I’d ever seen. The hailstorm turned into a clear sunny afternoon, and an even better sunset. The restless night led to some insane star gazing, and photographing the mountain goats proved to be way more fun than watching the sun come up anyway.


Catie Bergman is Seattle-based photographer who primarily focuses on portraiture and the outdoors. She’s a people person who values moments over things, and she’s always looking for the next place to travel. Find more from her at catiebergman.com or on Instagram.